I was blown away with the new surf film Facing Monsters which played last night at the Ritz Cinema in Randwick. Cinema one in the Sydney theatre was a full-house of frothers, curious to see the big-wave surfer Kerby Brown’s journey conquering the heaviest waves in the world.
The project was directed by Bentley Dean and shot by legendary surf cinematographer Rick Rifici. It has been a long process for the film to be shown in theatres around Australia with over five years of production and the challenges faced by COVID.
Browns level of respect in the surfing world illustrated by three-times world-champion and fellow big-wave charger Tom Carroll introducing the film.
Anyone that follows surfing extensively knows the insanity of Brown’s unique big wave approach. Kerby is not about charging the tallest waves like Nazare or perfect big waves at Jaws. He is all about finding the thickest slabs usually in rogue locations that are meant to be un-surfable.
A lot of these waves are on the west coast of Australia, Brown’s home state. Swells from Antarctica gather speed and gain gigantic sizes before hitting sharp reefs and rocks on the west coast of Australia, resulting in thick slabs.
Kerby’s brother Cortney is his tow-in driver and partner in crime. The film illustrates there special relationship hunting waves up and down the 20,000 km West Australian coastline, trusting each other with their lives since they first picked up boards.
Cortney, the younger brother, a highly skilful big wave surfer himself, claims to not be as crazy as his older brother Kerby. His father Glen watches on with disagreement but supports his sons surfing ridiculous waves of consequence.
Many surf films are repetitive, this was not one of them. Each wave surfed makes your stomach churn, questioning if Kerby was/is a psychopath. His mate and fellow big wave charger Chris Shanahan says in the film “he [Kerby] could have a few screws loose”.
Kerby, a promising competitive surfer when he was younger just could not stand the small, and in his eyes, shit waves of the qualification circuit. Knowing he could be chasing slabs around WA and the world was more exciting to him. He quit the goal of being on the world tour to focus on big waves.
Immediately the film gives you an understanding of him, Kerby is a deep thinker and is extremely passionate about the ocean where he feels most home. I was surprised with his child-like wonder and willingness to express himself, my perception of him was one of a bearded mad-max character roaming the lands solo who kept to himself.
Does this deepness come from the perils of addiction and recovery? The film intimates it does.
In his 20’s, Brown was a sponsored free-surfer travelling with the love of his life, his partner Nicole. However still tormented by his personal demons which he states have always been there.
Some of our favourite surfers and extreme-sports athletes share this battle with addiction. When the big swells were around Brown was focused and content, but when the waves were flat, he would party like an absolute mad-man, four-day alcohol and drug benders were nothing out of the ordinary.
The madness allows him to charge waves that few can, but it can also lead to a self- destructive path. Who knows what would of happened to Kerby, if his wife didn’t fall pregnant with his first child, a wake-up call for Kerby, making him want to be in his words ‘a better person’.
Whilst not expecting it to, the film to had me pondering about the importance of a loving and supportive family. Kerby’s main focus now is that of a husband, father, son and brother. Of course followed by his healthy or perhaps unhealthy obsession of surfing slabs.
It is indeed an unhealthy obsession as Kerby is currently recovering from a spinal injury, which occurred on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean not too far from Antarctica. The first to surf this wave Kerby’s fearlessness caught up to him resulting in a hectic wipe-out on his first crack at the shallow slab.
After a two-wave hold down, his brother Cortney found him bloodied up, the film crew worried about his head and how were they going to get him back to land. Kerby knew immediately his back was severely damaged, he would next be in hospital having a cervical spine plate inserted and extremely lucky to not be paralysed or even alive.
In the Q&A following the film, Brown was asked by a young grommet “what happened when you got smashed on that wave?”
He explained he smashed his head on the sharp reef and only could remember feeling his “spinal vertebrae’s move six times out of place like in a game of dominoes”.
The audience shrieked from Brown’s clear description of the injury.
Brown is still unsure of surfing big-waves again and has only started paddling on a board, grateful to be alive and appreciating the small things in life.
This film is more than facing big waves, it is about facing your demons, the importance of family and chasing your dreams no matter how crazy they are.
Click here to see where Facing Monsters is being screened in Cinemas around Australia & New Zealand. There is no digital release date yet.